Tourism expert Richard Smalley highlighted Kansas’ strongest assets as a tourism state Tuesday.
“We don’t have the plastic experience, fake mountains at Disney Land,” Smalley said. “People make the difference.”
The Tourism and Marketing Manager for the Kansas Department of Commerce gave suggestions for small towns to improve as tourist draws.
Smalley said Marion’s combination of water attractions, quaint downtown, old buildings, and places to shop is an appealing tourism package.
“Those are places I would like to see,” Smalley said.
Gallery 101 owner Jan Davis said she will think of adopting two key messages from the presentation — she will try to target potential customers with selected advertising and marketing opportunities.
“You want to use a rifle as often as you can, instead of a shotgun,” Smalley said about targeting a specific customer.
Davis will also try to collaborate with similar businesses in joint promotional events.
“The art galleries are just as good as anywhere, people just can’t find them,” Smalley said.
One of the things Davis thought about doing was strategically placing brochures in Kansas tourist stops. Smalley said there are two tourist centers near Belle Plaine on the turnpike and near Goodland but there are smaller locations to plant brochures.
“It has a bathroom,” Davis said. “People are going to stop anyway.”
She also talked about updating her website more frequently. Smalley said 75 percent of travelers look up travel information online.
Marion Chamber of Commerce Director Margo Yates said most of the business owners at the presentation — the majority of them from Marion — have websites.
“If you’re not (online) you’re missing the boat,” Yates said. “Most people will go online.”
Davis’ main tourism related ideas centered on partnership. She already organized the Marion Art Walk this past June, which partnered businesses and artists. She wants to host more events that incorporate antique shops and bed and breakfasts with her gallery, events that would highlight multiple tourist attractions at once.
With the chamber, Yates is responsible for organizing partnership opportunities. She cautioned that Marion residents have heard suggestions for improving business, especially opening on weekends and week-day nights, many times and have yet to make any changes. Smalley said businesses that close on Sunday face a disadvantage in selling to travelers.
“I understand the flip side,” Yates said. “You have Mom and Pop running the place and they need a day off.”
Another suggestion that Smalley broached, to which Yates was more receptive, was a map of antique dealers and other locations in small towns. The chamber had fashioned such a map previously for Marion. A new map would need to be updated to add new relevant businesses.
One of the marketing ventures the chamber has undertaken was putting together bags filled with merchandise from local businesses for visitors to pick up at Marion County Park and Lake and Marion Reservoir. She said there are over 400,000 visitors at the reservoir each year.
Yates said she might attempt to hold meetings with people to develop a joint marketing strategy.
“It’s the small things that can be a huge help,” Yates said. “Somebody works behind the counter at a convenience store, the worst thing to say is there’s nothing to do (in town).”
Smalley emphasized that the importance of tourism for the Kansas economy has not diminished. Although the state budgets $5 million for tourism, Kansas brings in nearly $5.6 billion in tourism-related revenue each year.